Father Owen Kearns, a member of the Legionaries of Christ and the editor-in-chief and publisher of the National Catholic Register, apologizes in the April 25 edition of the paper for defending his order’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel, when sexual abuse allegations against him first surfaced.
Father Kearns said he publicly defended Father Maciel when he was spokesman for the Legion of Christ in early 1997 and as publisher in the National Catholic Register in November 2001 and May 2006. “On each of these occasions I believed completely that the allegations against Father Maciel were false. I trusted him and his profession of innocence. I know now that I was wrong,” he wrote.
In 1997, religion reporter Gerald Renner broke the story about allegations by seminarians against Father Maciel in The Hartford Courant daily newspaper. The accusations were brought to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998. Pope Benedict XVI called on Father Maciel in 2006 to renounce public ministry as a priest and spend the rest of his life in prayer and penitence.
At the time, Father Maciel was 86 years old, and the Vatican did not publish the results of its investigation. The priest died in 2008.
Father Kearns said he regrets that in his defense of Father Maciel he “took to task” Hartford Courant writers Renner and Jason Berry, along with the paper’s editors. “They didn’t get everything about the Legion right but they were fundamentally correct about Father Maciel’s sexual abuse and I ask forgiveness — too late for Gerald Renner, who is deceased.”
Berry co-authored the 2004 book, “Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II,” which looked at how the Vatican handled allegations against Father Maciel. The book was made into a documentary film.
In March, top officials of the Legionaries of Christ acknowledged that Father Maciel sexually abused young seminarians and asked forgiveness for failing to listen to his accusers.
Father Kearns similarly addressed these victims, saying: “I’m sorry for what our founder did to you. I’m sorry for adding to your burden with my own defense of him and my accusations against you. I’m sorry for being unable to believe you earlier. I’m sorry this apology has taken so long.”